The NFL’s Wildcard Weekend featured hours of blowout football. Finally, in hour 14 of 16, the Packers and Cardinals saved the day with a suspenseful finish. While AFC underdogs utilized an old school formula to produce victories, the NFC made it rain. Not to be outdone, I put together the most impressive performance of the weekend: I picked every game incorrectly. Let’s review the mayhem.
If ever there were an explanation for how chaotic, unpredictable, and bizarre the NFL playoffs are, this would be it. On Wildcard Weekend 2010, a starting quarterback finished 4/10 for 34 yards and an interception … and won, while another starting quarterback finished 28/42 for 422 yards, 4 touchdowns, and an interception … and lost. Gotta love the playoffs.
(5) Jets 24 at (4) Bengals 14
Don’t be fooled, these are your daddy’s Cincinnati Bengals. Despite their talent, these Bengals don’t bite. The New York Jets steamrolled Cincinnati on Saturday and proved they belong in the playoffs. New York’s recipe for success resembled an early ‘90’s game plan. The Jets pounded the Bengals for 171 rushing yards, kept to a conservative aerial attack, and relied on a powerful defense to advance to the second round.
In a game that was supposed to be lost by the opponent’s rookie quarterback, veteran Carson Palmer played like the rookie. His passes were erratic and he appeared completely overwhelmed. On the other side of the ball, rookie Mark Sanchez played composed. He effectively sustained drives, made big throws when necessary, and most importantly, registered zero turnovers.
Other than Cedric Benson’s 169 rushing yards, nothing went right for the Bengals. Despite being outplayed, the Bengals had their chances in the second half. At least until kicker, Shayne Graham missed two field goals of 35 and 28 yards that would have cut the Jets lead to four and seven, respectively. Both field goals significantly swung momentum and thwarted any possibility of a comeback. We get to see the Rex Ryan sweater vest for yet another week. I’m psyched.
(6) Eagles 14 at (3) Cowboys 34
There just isn’t enough time to detail all that went wrong for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nonetheless, I will delve into their collapse in further detail tomorrow. For now, we’ll concentrate on how a running game (yes, a running game Andy!) paced the Cowboy offense and thrashed the Eagle defense.
To review, an effective running game; establishes tempo, controls the clock, wears down a defense, and establishes a team as the more physical presence. Did it work? Absolutely.
Tempo: the Eagle defense never found a rhythm and allowed the Cowboy offense to dictate the entire game. Clock: nearly doubled Philadelphia’s time of possession. Fatigue: after hanging tough in the 1st quarter, the Eagle defense turned to mush and was overmatched. Physical dominance: when the Eagles needed stops, they failed repeatedly. Even though the Cowboys ran several plays multiple times, the Eagles were helpless. The Cowboys executed at will. So yeah, the running game accomplished everything Dallas hoped it would.
Dallas’ defense was equally as impressive. For the third time this season, the Cowboys secondary made DeSean Jackson a nonfactor and forced the Eagles into obvious passing situations where their pass rush flustered Donovan McNabb all night long. The Eagles (9 penalties for 116 yards) caused more problems for the officials than they did the Cowboys. But hey, at least Sav Rocca finally had a good game.
(6) Ravens 33 at (3) Patriots 14
Wildcard Weekend wasn’t good to quarterbacks. Excluding the 7 on 7 drills in Arizona, only 1½ quarterbacks performed admirably. The legend himself, Tom Brady, accounted for four turnovers in perhaps the most dreadful outing of his career. Solid veteran quarterbacks like McNabb and Palmer were below average in embarrassing defeats. While they weren’t solely to blame for their respective losses, neither played well enough to escape fault either. Then there’s Sloppy Joe Flacco. Flacco emerged victorious despite totaling nearly as many passing yards as points (34-33). (Sanchez gets half credit here because his post game performance was overdone. He’ll learn soon enough how quickly the playoffs can humble you.)
If you’re looking for a reason to send me a “you’re such an idiot” email, here’s a good one. In my preview of this game I stated the following, “Baltimore will need to rush for over 200 yards to win – the returns of Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork will make this is unlikely.” The Baltimore Ravens finished with 268 yards of total offense, 234 of which resulted from the running game. Thank you, thank you.
Need more? I used “Tom Brady” to defend my pick. Not, “Tom Brady is solid,” or “Tom Brady should do well.” Nope. Just, “Tom Brady.” When you only use someone’s name to support your claim and they lay a stinker like that, you know it’s only a matter of time before Willie Green and Samuel Dalembert start laughing at you.
Again, just a reminder to Andy Reid. Both the Jets and Ravens used a RUSHING ATTACK to defeat favored opponents. That’s a rushing attack. You know, where the quarterback gives the ball to another player without gravity’s involvement in the play? Just want to make sure we’re clear.
(5) Packers 45 at (4) Cardinals 51
Ahh yes, the only playoff game that captivated audiences. I thought we were in for one of the worst playoff weekends in recent memory. The only thing worse than Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling the second half of a blowout would have been Joe Gibbs calling a game this weekend. Oh, he was in the booth on Saturday? I thought that was Lou Holtz. My bad. Anyway, thank goodness for Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, and the aliens that abducted the defensive players. That second half was a real treat.
At what point do we recognize Warner as one of, if not the best, playoff quarterback of all time? I know he doesn’t have the Super Bowl wins that Brady, Aikman, and Montana have, but he’s been incredible. Sunday’s victory will bring his career playoff total to close to 4,000 yards, over 30 touchdowns, and just 13 interceptions. Those numbers rival Brady’s, top Aikman’s, and based upon games played, are slightly better than Montana’s. Without Warner, the Cardinals are NFC West champions and an easy out in the Wildcard round. With him, they’re a Super Bowl wildcard.
Aaron Rodgers committed two turnovers, one of which ended the game blah blah blah. If you really believe Rodgers is why the Packers lost this game, you probably bought your TV at Sears, wear Wrangler jeans, and have a #4 tattooed on your lower back. Along with Warner, Rodgers was the most impressive quarterback of the first round. May I also remind you that Favre lost the NFC Championship game two years ago with an ugly interception? Give Rodgers a reliable defense, and he’ll be a top five quarterback for the next 7-10 years. No question.
By the way, how frustrating was it watching the defenses in this game? How many times did Arizona need to run a draw at Clay Matthews before he learned not to dart upfield on every play? Or, why didn’t Arizona’s secondary appear interested in sticking to their coverage? It was painful. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have been if the Eagles met one of these teams in the playoffs. DeSean Jackson might have run out of touchdown celebrations.
Next week we welcome Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Philip Rivers to the party. Hopefully, the blowouts will stay home.